Sjöwall & Wahlöö: The Locked Room (1972) Martin Beck Series


One could say that Sjöwall and Wahlöö are the grandfathers of Swedish crime. They wrote long before Nordic crime was the thing it has become. Their Martin Beck series is said to be one of the best around. A true classic. While the books have been around for as long as I can think, I never picked one up, although I have always been curious. Now, finally, because I was looking for a locked room mystery, I came across the eight title in the Martin Beck series, The Locked Room, and thought I’ll give it a try. I know it’s not ideal to start with book eight in a series but it was OK. I never felt liked I was missing a ton of information. According to Michael Connelly, who wrote the introduction to this book, it’s one of their best.

This book was not what I’ve expected. It was so much better. So good in fact that I immediately downloaded the first in the series.

Detective Inspector Martin Beck isn’t the central character in this book because he’s been shot and only just returned to work after an eighteen month break. To help him get back into the routine, he’s been assigned a minor case. A man has shot himself and Beck has to wrap up the case.

Parallel to this case, we follow the police investigating a bank robbery that has gone terribly wrong. One of the customers was shot. For years, the police have tried to catch a group of bank robbers, but they always escaped. The police are pretty sure that the robbers they are chasing, robbed this bank as well, even though they never shot anyone before.

The readers know from the beginning that someone else has robbed the bank. We also learn that the suicide Beck investigates was a murder. The man was found dead, shot, in a locked room and no weapon could be found.

These are two very different cases. The one Beck investigates is more suspenseful as we only know as much as Beck knows. The other case is rather hilarious. And this is exactly why this series surprised me so much and why I loved this book. Very obviously Sjöwall and Wahlöö were very fond of their character Beck. Beck, who is a bit of a loner, is very intelligent, a thinker, slightly sarcastic and disillusioned but not bitter. His colleagues aren’t too keen on him, they find him bizarre and too unconventional. He’s definitely an outsider. While we can feel how much the authors like Beck, we also notice quickly, how little they think of the police in general. They make fun of the bank robbery squad wherever they can. More than one of their missions turns into a farce. Some of these characters are very likeable too but dorky. Others, especially those higher up in the ranks are just clueless.

I really enjoyed the mix of such different cases. The quiet, introspective case Beck was on and the big bank robbery investigation that took surprising turns and had many funny moments.

Another aspect I liked was that the book was full of social criticism. It’s really quite harsh in places. The authors excoriate Swedish society and politics.

I know that Beck is more prominent in the earlier books, so I can’t wait to read a novel in which he gets more room. He’s a great character.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise. Sharp, pithy writing, combined with dry humour, appealing characters, a realistic setting, and two interesting cases. What more could you want?

Kelley Armstrong: Omens (2013) The Cainsville Trilogy I


I always meant to return to Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but when I saw she has a new series out, which is a real departure from her dark fantasy series and much more of a thriller/crime series, I was very interested.

Omens is a terrific read and an unusual genre, one could call it a thriller with elements of magical realism. The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it’s not a standalone and that part II will only be out in 2014.

Olivia Talyor-Jones is a 24-year-old, rich society girl, just about to get married to her fiancé James when her world is turned upside down. Not only does she find out that she has been adopted, but her birth parents are serving a life sentence. They are serial killers who have committed four ritualistic murders.

Shocked by the discovery, haunted by the press and pushed away by her adoptive mother and her fiancé, she follows some signs and ends up in the small-town Cainsville, located not too far away from her hometown Chicago. Olivia decides to cut herself off from her former life for the time being, to look for an apartment and get a job.

Cainsville is a small town that seems to be stuck in another time and as soon as Olivia arrives, she encounters signs and omens which lead her to different interesting discoveries about the town and its people and her parents. Her birth parents hear that she has been found and want to get in contact with her. When Olivia meets dubious lawyer Gabriel Walsh, who was her birth mother’s lawyer during one of her appeals, she decides to visit Pamela, her mothe, and hire Walsh.

There were always doubts about her parents really being serial killers and after Olivia has met her mother and memories of her early childhood resurface, she starts to hope that they are innocent and, together with Gabriel, she wants to prove it. Their research puts them in great danger and the story we get to read is suspenseful and fast-paced.

The end of this book tells me that the supernatural elements which are toned down in this book, will become more important in the future. It seems that Olivia has been brought to Cainsville for a reason.

I enjoyed Omens a great deal and can hardly wait for the next book. This absorbing novel would appeal to people who do not like to read fantasy but enjoy a good thriller with a strong and likable heroine. There is potential for a love story here as well. I liked the description of the small town Cainsville a lot. It reminded me a bit of  Louise Penny’s Three Pines, just with some magical realism thrown in.

This is my third contribution to Carl’s RIP VIII. At this pace I will have read four books before the second month starts. So far I have covered these genres”Haunted House”, “Urban Fantasy” and “Thriller”. Next up is, hopefully, – “Gaslamp Fantasy” (don’t tell me you are not intrigued).

If you’d like to see what others have reviewed so far, here’s the link to the  RIP review site.

Zoran Drvenkar: Tell Me What You See – Sag mir, was du siehst (2002) German YA Fantasy Thriller

Zoran Drvenkar was born in Croatia in 1967 and moved to Berlin with his parents at the age of three. He is the author of far over 30 books for children, young adults and adults. His gritty thriller for adults Sorry and the fantasy thriller Tell Me What You See – Sag mir, was du siehst are the only books available in English so far. I’ve read a collection of short stories a couple of years ago and really liked it. I thought he is the perfect choice for genre week.

Tell Me What You See was very different from the other book I read by him and very different from anything I ever read. Some call him the Neil Gaiman of German literature (a title that Christoph Marzi holds as well).  After having read this novel I have to say, it’s not a good comparison. He is very different.

If you look at the German cover below you get the perfect feel of this book. It has very strong imagery and a mysterious story. The book starts during Christmas night. Sixteen year old Alissa and her best friend Evelin wander around the snow-covered graveyard, in the middle of the night. It’s icy cold and they are looking for Alissa’s father’s grave like every Christmas. He died in an accident a few years ago and Alissa cannot get over it. While looking for the grave, Alissa falls into an open crypt, discovers the coffin of a small child and a mysterious plant growing out of that coffin. Something urges her to rip out the plant and eat it.

From that moment on things get strange and scary. Alissa sees figures nobody else sees, she notices ravens all over the town, her former boyfriend Simon starts stalking her. What she doesn’t know is that ingesting a magical plant like this is deadly for the wrong host.

If you want to know whether she will survive or join her father, what those figures are and discover the secret of the plant, you have to read the book. The answers and the ending is a bit sad and quite unexpected.

I loved reading this book, I liked the imagery so much and found the story suspenseful. I didn’t care so much for the language though. It’s very rude in places, especially in the parts written in Simon’s POV.

Tell Me What You See is very evocative and atmospherical, a perfect read for this time of the year. If you like snow, graveyards, ravens, old dilapidated villas and ghosts, this is a must read for you.

I have to add that I was a bit taken aback by the explicit references to sex, especially since this is a book for the age group 12+. Clearly there are other rules for German YA novels. I have no children but I asked someone if they would think it is OK for their twelve-year-old child to read about blowjobs and other explicit things. The answer, as I had expected, was no. I just thought I’d let you know if you consider buying this as a Christmas gift for a younger person.

Vishy and I decided to read this book together. You can find his review here. It’s worth having a look as he included many beautiful quotes from the book.


Thanks to Grace (Books Without Any Pictures) I discovered that Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has finally announced R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII.

There are different levels of participation. You can read as many books as you like or just one, stick to short stories or watch a movie.

And here are the genres you can choose from:

Dark Fantasy
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above

I’m in the mood for ghost stories right now and will certainly read the one or the other. I also just bought The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

There are also two extremely tempting readalongs.

Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

Details and sign up can be found here R.eaders I.mbibing. P.eril VII

The reviews can be posted here R.I.P. VII Review Site

Will you join? What are you going to read?

Louise Penny: Still Life (2005)

The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force. But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…

Still Life by Canadian writer Louise Penny was a real discovery. There hasn’t been a start to a crime series since I’ve read the first of Peter Robinson’s Chief Inspector Ranks series that I enjoyed this much.

If I could I would move to Three Pines, the small fictional village, located a few hours from Montreal, in rural Québec. It’s a small village that sounds as if it was a place where time stands still and reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Old cottages face a small village center and are surrounded by old trees and lush gardens. The place is very green and picturesque, the descriptions of it atmospheric and full of tiny details of the season. It’s the end of autumn, dead leaves are falling, it rains and the temperature is slowly dropping. A storm will come and soon it will be winter. Before the crime is solved, snow will begin to fall and a lot of the investigation will have taken place in front of a cozy fire.

It’s hard to believe a crime could happen is such an idyllic setting but it does and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Sureté du Québec and his team have to leave Montreal and try to find out what happened to Jane Neal. The old woman was found dead in the forest on the morning of Thanksgiving. It is the hunting season and Jane has been shot dead by an arrow. However bow, arrow and shooter are missing. Was it maybe no hunting accident?

Gamache and his team will have to stay in Three Pines for the duration of the investigation. They move into Olivier’s and Gabri’s B&B. The two men also own the local bistro which is known for its excellent food. The investigation introduces us to Jane Neal’s friends, a small but interesting community. The painters Clara and Peter, Myrna, a former psychologist who opened a book shop in Three Pines, Ben, the son of Timmer, one of Jane’s best friends, Ruth, a poet and many more.

While Still Life has at times the feel of a cozy, it’s more complex than the average novel of that genre. Chief Inspector Gamache is a kind, intelligent but strict and far from flawless man. It will be interesting to see how he will be portayed in the following books. His team is promising as well, his subordinate is a sort of son figure for him while there is a rookie character with whom he gets into one conflict after another. The novel is well constructed, moving on a steady pace and the crime isn’t solved too easily and very plausible.

I have never read a Canadian crime novel before and I was glad Louise Penny provided a lot of interesting information about Québec, the way the French and the English live together, the peculiarities of the region.

What I liked best apart from a wide range of  psychological insights are the well-drawn characters and the wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the place. That makes me wonder how the series will go on. It seems part two is set in Three Pines as well but the following parts are not.

If you like to immerse yourself in your crime novels and want them well constructed with detailed descriptions and some very appealing characters, you shouldn’t miss the start to this series. It’s great. And I love the cover.

Maggi Andersen: Murder in Devon (2009)

I have never participated in a book tour before and thought it would be something new to try. When I was asked if I would like to read Australian writer Maggi Andersen’s Murder in Devon I accepted gladly. I like mysteries. I was aware that she is rather known for her Romance novels and that this crime novel belongs to the sub-category of Romantic Suspense. Although I’m really not a Romance reader, I have read Romantic Suspense in the past and liked it.

Casey wakes up, one morning in the cottage of her friends, in Devon. To her horror, someone has broken into the house, killed Don, her friend, and badly wounded his wife Tessa who is lying on the floor unconscious. Maybe due to a few glasses too many or exhaustion, Casey didn’t hear a thing. Don and Tessa are her oldest and closest friends. There are not many other people in her life as she isn’t good at relationships and has no family left. All this together makes the murder all the more painful.

Casey is the deputy editor of a woman’s magazine, while Don was a famous investigative reporter. Her friend Tessa is a psychologist working with abuse victims. Both Tessa and Don have had intense conflicts with people related to their work. Needless to say that there are many suspects.

While Chief Inspector Carlisle, who is responsible for the case  seems capable, Casey cannot let it be and has to actively investigate on her own. She isn’t even aware at first that she is a suspect. Carlisle isn’t amused that she is interfering with his investigation and when the two realize that they are drawn to each other and begin an affair, even less. Not only does he not want her to interfere but he knows she puts herself in great danger.

When Casey searches Don’s things and finds a list of paintings that are known to have been stolen by the Nazis – most of them are still missing – the discovery triggers a hunt that leads her from London to Germany and back.

I’m not an expert when it comes to romance novels but I can easily see that this part of the book did not work. The attraction came out of the blue and didn’t feel realistic. It somehow even felt like it was glued on the rest of the story which could have done very well without it. Despite the fact that the book is in serious need of editing (sentences were missing, many typos…) the crime part was gripping and I really wanted to finish and know who did it. I didn’t think it was too predictable at all.

If you like an entertaining crime novel which isn’t too gruesome but not exactly cozy crime with some history thrown in and if you prefer your crime to be action-driven and not psychological, then you’re in good hands here. It wasn’t really my thing but at least I was not bored.

One tiny thing I’d like to add is that Maggi Andersen supports the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals). There are always animals featuring in her books. In this one it’s a cat called Socrates. Here is her website.

I received a copy from the author and reviewed it as part of a Virtual Author Book Tour If you’d like to read the impressions of other participants, click on the link.

R. I. P. VI

Autumn is slowly approaching and Carl’s eagerly awaited R.I.P. VI has finally started. Of course I’m joining. Here is what Carl wrote in his post.

Every September 1st through October 31st for the last 5 years I have hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. I began this reader event, I blinked, and now I am hosting this for the 6th time. Wow, that is so hard to believe.

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy

The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

I am going to aim high this year and want to read 4 books, watch a movie and join the group read for Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern.

I am not sure what I am going to read but here are a few ideas:

Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand

Alice Thomas Ellis The Inn at the Edge of the World

John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer

Jennifer Archer’s Through Her Eyes

Victoria Schwab’s The Near Witch

Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

I wanted to re-watch Interview with the Vampire and the one or the other Vincent Price movie like Dragonwyck or House on Haunted Hill.

As written before, I will join the group read for Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern but there are two other possibilities if you’d like to participate.

If you want to join or know more about the details of the event here’s the link to Carl’s post.